Writing With Restrictions


Photo courtesy of Dorena-wm (flickr.com).

Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Rules to dampen your creative spirit? Restrictions to cage your inner writer’s voice? How can this be a good thing? Well, I find that my writer’s voice is much like a child. It proves to be most productive when given set expectations, boundaries, rewards and consequences.

I bet yours does too.

Think about it. When do you get your best writing done? A lazy Saturday when you have nothing to do other than write? Not me. I find myself hopping up from my computer like I’m being stung in the ass by fire-ants. Laundry! Dusting! Phone! Cat poo! Who last scooped the cat poo?!

Classic Tabby Scottish Foldphoto © 2010 Tom Thai | more info (via: Wylio)

On the other hand, when I have only thirty minutes to get two pages drafted before I have to run out the door, I’m a freaking master of efficiency. Write! Write! Write! (Satisfied smile.) Run!

Surprisingly, I’ve found that specific time limits aren’t the only thing my writing voice craves…expectations and boundaries set my creativity free. Ironic, right? Some of the writing of which I’m the most proud developed as a result of specific assignments given to me during creative writing classes. Somehow, a blank page didn’t seem quite as blank when I had an objective set by my instructor as well as a firm deadline. Confession: I am a teacher….failing to turn in homework would be like…well…it wouldn’t be like anything because IT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN. I’ve completed assignments whilst practically on my deathbed suffering from a 103 degree fever and pneumonia!

My students also create some incredible work when given boundaries. Poetry produces groans and moans until I turn it into a puzzle. Puzzles have rules you need to follow in order to solve them. Sonnets, haikus, acrostic poems….rules, rules, rules! My most reluctant poets are often my most energized puzzle-solvers.

William Shakespearephoto © 2008 Tony Tony | more info (via: Wylio)
This isn’t simply a classroom strategy. Iambic pentameter, alternating rhyme scheme, five acts? My (totally amateur) theory is that Shakespeare discovered puzzles keep your pen in business!

Obviously, teachers can’t dictate every piece of creative writing we complete, nor can they follow us throughout life giving us deadlines. It’s up to us to mentor our inner writing child. Schedule writing time, set deadlines, create boundaries. And when the muse is failing to knock at your door, try creating a puzzle for yourself.

Why not do that right now?

If you’re feeling inspired, exercise your puzzle-solving capabilities this very minute: Compose a 3 or 4 line poem about the theme, “Why Virtue Isn’t Everything,” and enter YARN’s poetry drive!

Shannon Marshall, Assistant Editor

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One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Desert Explorer says:

    I totally agree. I always start writing short stories without ever finishing them. Not anymore. I realised I had to set restrictions to my writing. I hope I’ll eventually finish this one. lol

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